End of the ‘Natural’ Disaster

It’s hurricane season, where TV coverage moves from one disaster-stricken town to the next.  But these crises began well before the weather forecasts.  Thousands of communities who have recently faced catastrophe have had to endure the collapse of their economic immune systems well before they were on the news.

But consider this slower and much more commonplace trends effecting those same communities, as well as virtually every other in the country:

  • The replacement of local economies with distantly-owned corporations and franchises;
  • the collapse of the local sales tax base through consistent and reckless tax breaks to big box stores;
  • the disappearance of the middle class career and rise of the high-insecurity, no-future, low-wage temp job;
  • the lean logistics of modern businesses with no space for disaster mitigation or community support

The hurricanes were for those communities merely the latest of a series of disasters to afflict them. A sober view of disaster recovery as a profession is that it will be required one way or the other:

  • Faster in the case of floods or hurricanes;
  • Slower in the case of urban decay and the failure of aging infrastructure.

And we are really only equipped for natural disasters- “Acts of God.”  Acts of Greed, or Negligence, or Poor Planning- are off the table as far as professional disaster mitigation is concerned.  The average American town or city lasts many times longer, decades longer, than the average Fortune 500 company.  Communities are built to be conservative; stable; responsive; supportive.  And yet they are being asked to do more and more while their resources are being undercut.

Community resilience starts with community prosperity, solidarity, and mutual aid for surrounding communities.  All of those starting points are undercut when the economic foundation of a community is swapped out and a corporate skeleton crew replaces it. It’s time to recognize the value of the City or Town as an enduring and resilient community- and broaden our view of the unnatural disasters which afflict them.

1 thought on “End of the ‘Natural’ Disaster”

  1. Excellent post, David. I especially appreciate your point about how what we consider “Natural Disasters” are actually connected to other controllable conditions that are in place long before the weather event. I was given a book that relates to this very point you make. The book is short but fairly academic/philosophical. Translated from French, it is written by Jean-Luc Nancy and is called “After Fukushima: the equivalence of catastrophes.” In the preamble he explains what is meant by equivalence:
    “The ‘equivalence’ of catastrophes here means to assert that the spread or proliferation of repercussions from every kind of disaster hereafter will bear the mark of that paradigm represented by nuclear risk. From now on there is an interconnection, an intertwining, even a symbiosis of technologies, exchanges, movements, which makes it so that a flood – for instance – wherever it may occur, must necessarily involve relationships with any number of technical, social, economic, political intricacies that keep us from regarding it as simply a misadventure or a misfortune whose consequences can be more or less easily circumscribed. this is even truer for chemical catastrophe such as the one in Bhopal in 1984, the human, the economic and ecological effects of which are still visible today.”

    In an interview at the end of the book he says, “Equivalence stems first from the fact that there’s not much we can term simply ‘natural,’ since the ravages of a tsunami or a hurricane are immediately multiplied on the human scale, and more than that, they modify and are modified by industry, urbanism, politics, etc. Rousseau long ago noted that there was nothing ‘natural’ about the height of the buildings in Lisbon….What can we say about a nuclear power plant by the sea, one maintained in a defective condition?”

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